It was all about balance.
Flight Commander Kelly O’Hara reached out with her left hand, and lightly spun the large trim wheel. She could tell by the way the Airship “Random” had started to pitch, that the Air Cav had moved their mounts out of the stables and into line on the flight deck, four levels below.
“Echo report?” She shouted back. Unlike most Flight Commanders, she liked to enter action with the front bay windows open to the elements. Sure, it got cold on the Flight Deck, and she had to wear her goggles – but it paid off with the slightest change of breeze playing over her fair cheeks. She liked to feel the change before she saw it on the butterfly shaped wind rose hanging from the nose of the ship. It also meant she could clearly hear both the low frequency boom and high frequency chirp of the echo location equipment from each ship.
“Nothing yet, Commander,” the Flight Echoman shouted back. He took off his ‘bat ears’ and cranked the wheel – sending a booming sub-echo off in another direction and then put the ears back on.
Kelly scanned the skies in front of her. Large banks of cumulus ahead – Perfect for hiding enemy ships. The Echo Location equipment had trouble with large clouds, if only someone could invent some way to see through them – some sort of new electrical field perhaps. Well – best not to dwell on it.
She scanned to her left and right. Raven Squadron was deployed in three flights of five and she was in the lead as usual. They had a total contingent of a hundred and fifty mounted Air Cavalry between them, including the ten Light Horse Hussars in the deck below.
The ship pitched forward, and she knew the Horsemen were forming up in a tight line near the front doors. For routine patrols, they normally exited simultaneously from the front and rear ramps. But for combat the Luft Major preferred the front exit only. Kelly humored him, in spite of the fact that the increased air resistance when the doors opened would make it difficult to compensate for – once the flight left the ship.
She reached out with her right hand, pushed the throttle that controlled the alcohol burners forward just a notch. The steam pressure needed to be higher for combat. She wanted to be ready when all hell broke loose.
“CONTACT!” shouted the Echoman.
“BEARING” she shouted back, but it was pointless. She could see them with her own eyes, as the line of Eastern Airships emerged from the cloud-banks. A damned gutsy ploy – or foolhardy. Hiding an airship of hydrogen in a cloud-bank, one that could easily turn into a thunderhead on a day like this, was high-risk stuff.
Her enemies were insane.
Her eyes scanned back and forth – they were outnumbered by at least three to one. The Eastern Alliance used the cheaper hydrogen for lift. Easier to manufacture in large volumes, it was nevertheless extremely flammable. The trade-off meant they could field a larger fleet on the savings. That is, if you did not mind burning a couple of ships along with their crew on every engagement. The Eastern Alliance was arrayed in a three tiered battle front; Ships above and below their own flight level. This was to make the best use of the gun turrets on their ships to cover one another in boxed formation. It was going to go hard on our Flyers.
Kelly saw the bright flashes erupt from the front turrets of the Eastern Guns. Silly really – they were too far out of range. Conscripts are easily riled she reckoned. They had no discipline.
She reached forward with her left foot, and kicked the rudder control. The big ship yawed left slightly, and her sister ships followed her lead. She had picked out the squadron ahead and below her for her attack. She would exchange altitude for speed. Her sisters were no doubt glad for her choice.
All the countries used women for pilots nowadays. It didn’t take great strength to fly the ships, it took great reflexes, judgment and most of all – an intuitive sense of balance. Women seemed to have it in spades. What was the new phrase going around? “Multi-Tasking” – an airship pilot used both hands, both feet and her head to keep the ship trimmed and oriented. A great pilot almost never touched the wheel in front of her.
It was all about balance.
The Eastern Squadron she had chosen to attack was holding their formation. She and her flight sisters were picking up speed. She reached for the trim wheel. She used the weight of the horsemen in the front of her ship for trim, even as she goosed the alcohol engines for additional speed. She laughed just a bit at the visual image in her mind of the men and horses in the deck below her. They had to be scrambling to compensate for the pitching deck.
“Tesla Generators ONLINE” shouted the Weapons Officer. Well, they were going to burn through a lot of alcohol keeping those babies spinning – but best to have them ready as soon as possible. The high-pitched whine from the generators behind her filled the cabin. The BOOMING location echoes of airships filled the air like a symphony of whales, each one singing a distinctive song in the sky. The roar of wind through the open console added a haunting refrain. She needed to get closer.
Out of the corner of her eye – more sensed than seen – the big Eastern Ship opened fire. It had broken formation ahead and above her – exchanging its altitude for speed – not something they would normally do. “Damn it!” she shouted aloud. “Signal OFFICER! Tell the flight I’m breaking off!”
She reached out and grabbed the flight wheel, even as she kicked the rudder hard left. She pulled the wheel back, and kicked the rudder again. The big ship was slow to respond. Having been committed to a dive, she was taking longer than she wanted to level out.
The Turkish ship opened fire again, the big gun turrets spitting charged fireballs at them. Too far out for the Tesla Guns to be effective, she needed help. Best thing to do – was to take a low profile, straight course at the bastard’s broadside. They would get more guns trained on her, but she would have the lower profile. Gutsy, or foolhardy?
The tiny Aviatrix began to hum her favorite tune. The first few times she did that; the flight crew was a bit unnerved. Now, they looked forward to it. If things got really hairy, she was inclined to break into song. A song from her childhood. A song her mother used to sing. It gave her strength and inspiration. It was a tune she sang to herself all through flight school, when things got tough. “Though she be but little, she is fierce…” she hummed the Irish jig. Shakespeare’s words gave her comfort, too bad he was Englishman.
The first fireballs hit the big envelope and bounced harmlessly off. The new skins were impregnated with aluminum and fairly resistant to the enemies weapons at long range. They could play hell with the cabin though. She made allowances to use the envelope as a shield while she positioned the ship straight ahead.
“Tesla range acquired!” Shouted the Echoman. “Fire Front Canon” she sang, and the first bolt of lightning arced out from above her towards the Turkish ship. She laughed aloud as the air sizzled, and she saw a small hole appear on the skin of the Turkish ship. Deep inside the framework, underneath a second skin – the bags of hydrogen death awaited. “ Stand by AIR CAV!” Her order was relayed to the deck below. Closer, she needed to get a bit closer.
“NOW” she shouted. The Air Constable hit a lever, and she felt the big doors below her swing open. The ship sloughed right a bit, and she kicked in some left rudder. She felt the first horse leave the bay even before the Constable shouted “Flight’s Away!”. A mounted Pegasus with horse and gear weighed over a ton. Nine more were right behind him. When ten tons of ballast left an airship in a rush, it could make things pretty scary… or fun.
Her feet danced a jig on the rudders, her hands danced over the trim wheels and alcohol throttles, as she opened her mouth and began to sing – her heart exulted at the sight of the flight of winged horses leaving her bay. She laughed with delight as one rider pulled a barrel roll as he formed up on his companions. Anton – the damn fool was going to get himself killed.
Or become a flight leader.
Balance. It was all about balance.